KBK update for Saturday, 1st January2021 knowledge round-up
Another strange year has come and gone, with disappointingly no huge breakthrough to match those of 2019 (and Cortron have failed to come through, as it seemed most likely they would: this is something I’ll have to tackle alone). With that said, the collection of outstanding mysteries has been steadily chipped away, and general knowledge is steadily rising.
As part of my ongoing process of documenting the electronics within keyboards and the encoding process in particular, there are now dedicated pages for each of MOS/LSI single-chip keyboard encoders (commenced in December 2020 and expanded significantly in 2021), microcontroller-based encoders and the related but rather different keyboard controllers that go inside the computer instead of the keyboard. The encoding and output page has been continually improved throughout the year as new information comes to light.
Datanetics history has seen a significant boost. A chance discovery of Jamie Fingal, daughter of the late Datanetics president Marshall James Styll, as well as more information from Meryl Miller, has allowed Datanetics history to be expanded considerably. 2021 has seen the discovery of several varieties of their original batch-fabricated array keyboards, and Meryl has explained their origin in NCR’s CRAM 2 memory storage system. The first photograph of a calculator with a batch-fabricated keyboard has come to light, from Meryl’s private collection.
Other highlights of 2021 include:
- Four series of Maxi-Switch discrete switches have now been formally identified, as has been the origin of the name “Maxi-Switch” (from maximilian armour). Series 2700 reed switches and Series 3100 mechanical switches are both Amphenol-designed switches, and possibly both part of Amphenol’s 601 series (details on the Amphenol products remains limited, and Amphenol have failed to respond). The “vintage linear” switches—and the keyboards built around them—are 6000 Series (or Series 6000, depending how they felt like writing it), while the extremely rare “integrated dome” types are 8000 Series. A number of 6000 Series switch part numbers have also been recovered from NSN entries by way of HP part numbers.
- Despite Corton’s refusal to co-operate, progress in understanding Licon and Cortron keyboards continues. The widely-encountered “full-height” type—which is shorter than the “intermediate” type but has a larger PCB-to-plate distance—is now determined to be Series 54 Superswitch II. A number of switch part numbers for these switches have also been recovered from NSN entries via HP part numbers. General understanding of their product history is improving with time. It’s still a huge shame that whoever bought the 1971 55-100007 keyboard from eBay has squandered it: this is one of many keyboards that, once sold, were deleted from the Internet leaving no trace that they ever existed, and one where I forgot to preserve the photos. Possibly this was an original Superswitch keyboard; details of early 70s Licon keyboards remain extremely scarce.
- SMK JM-0400 reed switches, and the corresponding elastic contact types, have now been seen more closely, but the owner has predictably failed to document these properly. Currently there is no information on whether the elastic contact type—which is the basis for Maxi-Switch 8000 Series—is part of JM-0400 series, and the JM-0400 membrane switches remain to be encountered.
- There is now tentative evidence that the two styles of Mechanical Enterprises T-15 Series—sealed metal contact and elastic contact—represent two separate series: T-15 sealed contact and T16 elastic contact (always seen written without the hyphen). “t16” is the name that Mechanical Enterprises themselves previously offered to someone else (which I took to be a mistake); this name has since appeared in a keyboard flyer in Bill Buxton’s collection, one that is not yet publicly available (and cannot be shared as he has vanished into oblivion). Datalux (formerly Mechanical Enterprises) no longer respond at all, and no visual depiction of T16 is known, so it may be a while before this matter is cleared up.
- Omron B2C has now been split off from the B2x page following the revelation that this is in fact a capacitive series of keyboards, using foam pad switches.
- Hirose solid-state capacitive has been found, which was unexpected; naturally, this has not been properly documented anywhere.
- While it’s well known that ИЗОТ cloned Cherry M8 (as 0130Д) and M9 (as 0125Д), I don’t recall seeing a clone of Cherry M6/M7 before. A mystery switch found in Romanian keyboards has now been determined to be a copy of M7. It’s not an M7 clone; rather, it simply copies the way that M7 is designed and operates, but the dimensions do not match M7. The manufacturer remains unknown, but FEPER or ICE Felix seem to be likely. ICE Felix also made keyboards with what now seems very likely to be a clone of Stackpole KS-200E interlocking switches (already vaguely known but now more examples have come to light); see the Eastern Bloc switches page for brief details. More information may be forthcoming.
- Last but not least, a number of Alps switch series have now been identified by way of an Alps Electric low-profile keyboard switches sample pack. This was originally sold on eBay, and neither the eBay seller nor the buyer ever made any attempt to actually document this discovery. The pictures were later salvaged from Discord after being accidentally rediscovered, and copied to Deskthority where they are now accessible. In some ways it’s remarkable that 2021 has seen the progress that it has with the keyboard community so determined to not recognise, preserve or pass on knowledge. Discoveries are often left trapped inside Discord where they are quickly forgotten.
The following remain my top outstanding mysteries, and maybe somehow 2022 will bring some answers:
- Details of the various Mitsumi discrete keyboard switch series (KAM, KCT, KDM, KLM, KLT etc): not a single shred of official information has shown up for any of these types yet
- Clearer details of the various Futaba series (MD, ML, MR etc), as details of these products remains fragmentary and vague
- A clearer breakdown of SMK JM-0400 and details on the successor DIN-compliant series that remains unidentified
- The identity of the “intermediate” Cortron ferrite core switches, and the external appearance of the mysterious Cortron Superswitch 3
- The meaning of “WEAB” in Mechanical Enterprises T-5 Series
- The manufacturer of the “Katano” switches
- Details of Omron’s B2x range of reed and Hall effect keyboards and switches
- Clear details of the product range of Pye Electro-Devices AKA PED, in particular the switch series used in their BBC Micro keyboards
There is also a long list of unseen switches: switches known from patents or advertisements that have yet to show up in any keyboard. This list includes a number of exotic types, in particular the final fling of the self-encoding bounce-free school of thought before matrix scan took over the industry completely in the early 70s.
View within the updates for 2022